A Review of LA Invitational at Gagosian, New York
Like the geographic and cultural threads that influence the west coast artists featured in this exhibition, LA Invitational is expansive in its curatorial endeavor. It consists of either new work, or work newly exhibited to New York. Taking place over six gallery spaces at Gagosian’s West 24th Chelsea location – New York’s blue-chip gallery district – the exhibition consists of painting, film, sculpture and conceptual work from 14 artists hailing from the American art hub of Los Angeles.
Ironically or not, the theme of LA, which brought this motley crew together, is what draws attention to each artwork’s uniqueness to their exhibition counterparts. All works demonstrate idiosyncratic artist practices, which in the context of this exhibition speak to the diverse ways in which Los Angeles as a landscape and as a culture, influences artists in dramatically different ways. Not only are the works stylistically set apart from one another, bar Jonas Wood’s Landscape Pot 2 (2014), they do not have a quintessentially LA feel. This is perhaps the intention for the exhibition title to be taken as a concept rather than at face value.
When viewed in isolation, the connection to LA, aside from the “lives and works in LA” in each artist biography, is not apparent. Yet certain artist pairings create west coast nostalgia. For example Chris Burden’s Three Ghost Ships (1991), an installation of three life-size Micro-16 sailboats intended to embark on their maiden voyage unmanned from Charlestown, South Carolina to Plymouth, England is decidedly non-LA. However, when seen against Alex Israel’s pastel Sky Backdrop (2016) and Jeff Wall’s expansive photographic landscape Property Line (2015) positioned port side to Burden’s trio, Three Ghosts could be setting sail across the pacific.
The combination of the works in this room evoke a sense of discovery, the yachts on a pilgrimage, two surveyors inspecting the vast terrain, the endless expanse of candy floss clouds and the pelican which inhabits all spheres, the sky, sea and soil. In this way, LA can be seen a both an ongoing influence upon artists, as well as a point of departure.
In the central exhibition space, which opens up directly in front of the entrance, a radioactive Sterling Ruby of slurred acid greens and slate grays greets viewers. Ruby is accompanied by recent Gagosian recruit, Mary Weatherford who joined the gallery’s roster in October. Her first work exhibited under Gagosian representation is exemplary of her stylistic sweet spot: affixing a neon light to a canvas of gestural abstraction. Weatherford’s erratic brushstrokes give the piece a fractious and frenetic energy as it is lit up by the electric neon zing of the rigid fluorescent light. In this particular work, Weatherford’s broad, scattered brushstrokes are more attuned to that of Willem De Kooning or Joan Mitchell rather than previous works such as rose parade (2014) which consists of modulated blended tones recalling Mark Rothko.
Across from Weatherford is a large work by Mark Grotjahn. The elongated canvas of thickly applied teal and rust colors forms a cropped composition of a plant. Grotjahn has then incised the work like a woodcut, carving out details of the leaves and blending them with a thick palette knife. It is as if the dull rust colored branches are lit up by the orange glow of a fire before them. With California on the viewer’s mind, one cannot help but recall the ember glows of the recent bush fires that engulfed the landscape.
Although the anchoring theme of this exhibition may seem inchoate in its display of a series of unrelated works, it is rewarding in its diversity. In a way, it presents itself more as a cherry-picked contemporary art collection, which is a treat for viewers to see the work of high caliber artists all in the same visit. LA Invitational’s eclectic ménage of artists and artworks provides an all-embracing environment to consider the influence of the LA cityscape and to canvas the endless ways in which this influence can manifest in contemporary art.
Written by Isabella Howard, a Contribitor to Arteviste.